Amalfi, from Maritime Republic to main city of the Amalfi Coast
Vurría passá la vita a stu paese,
‘mmiez’a ‘sta gente bella:
Vurría abballá pur’i’ na tarantell
a’nzieme cu te! – Popular song
Amalfi from the sea, hundreds of small windows set in white houses leaning against each other over a steep cliff.
Sea plays a major role in this town. It is the mirror of the city, where all the sunrises, sunsets, clear days of sunshine are reflected, where colors change from turquoise to emerald green, from white crystal to leaden gray in winter days. Its transparency, instead, is always unchanged, and treasures waters rich in history and natural wonders.
The town is a peaceful place, serene and bright, which in a second, from late afternoon onwards, becomes a place of great fun. Parties, both secular and religious, are a symbol of the city, as it always knows how to entertain children and tourists who come and visit it.
Amalfi’s natural set. The rugged mountains surrounding the city are not much high, but are rough, dark gray rocks overlooking the sea. However, the ridges around Amalfi are characterized by the presence of a thick vegetation that explodes with colors in spring. For the rest of the year, the Mediterranean scrub fills the eye of viewers, with forests of oak and chestnut trees.
A History with a Capital H, a difficult becoming, a successful Present
The inhabitants of Amalfi have had different thoughts in time. Around the Year One Thousand they thoughts were about Bigness, as the city was one of the Maritime Republics governing commerce and sea power. Then their main though became that of enduring against the threats of Saracens, Pisans and Turks; these were centuries of dark thoughts, which became thoughts of a born-again prestige since the beginning of 1800. Because since then, Amalfi was no longer just a quaint town, but has rather become the heart of the Amalfi Coast, a tourist resort for selected people, one of the most beautiful places in the world.
Founded by the Romans (its coat of arms bears the inscription Descendit ex patribus romanorum), Amalfi becomes a great city around the IX century, when it becomes one of the Maritime Republics. In competition with Genoa, Venice and Pisa, for the power over the Mediterranean Sea, it was perhaps the major of the Republics, the one that managed to circumvent the Arab supremacy in the shipping business, thanks to an intense trade with Byzantium and Egypt. This was the period of the Tables of Amalfi, the Maritime Code that remained in force until 1600, which contains the rules and regulations that should govern the traffic of goods and life on board ships.
Then, the era of decline started. From the late XI century on, it was conquered by the Normans and Pisans: in 1343 the coup de grace came with a tidal wave that destroyed almost the entire city. Amalfi is subjugated by pirates for several centuries, closing in on itself. When the enemies were sighted from the Saracen towers, locals fled inland, where they were better able to defend themselves and where the cultivation of olive trees and vineyards, and grazing, guaranteed a decent livelihood. The plague, in mid 1500, attempts to definitively undermine the spirit of this people, but they remain fearless and resists, and by the second half of 1800, Amalfi is back in vogue throughout the world. Because Amalfitans are the fathers-owners of a wonderful region that has become a destination for elite tourism, an area that since 1997, has been declared UNESCO World Heritage Site: welcome to the Amalfi Coast.
The central role of Amalfi in the Amalfi Coast
Amalfi is nowaday the most popular resort of Amalfi Coast, the historical, cultural and tourist center of this beautiful paradise. Amalfi is the heart of transport services by sea and by land for the Amalfi Coast, towards the Gulf of Naples, the islands of Ischia and Capri, Salerno and the Cilento coast: from Piazza Flavio Gioia, buses and ferries depart to all destinations. Spectacular boats and yachts from all the oceans of the world, dock at the port of Amalfi. The restaurants and hotels in Amalfi are meeting places rather than accommodation available to tourists.
Amalfi is the capital of the Amalfi Coast, the fulcrum on which life revolves between Vietri sul Mare and Positano. Each resort along the Coast has its own peculiarities, unique strengths and small weaknesses, as it always happens. Amalfi welcomes them all, good and bad things, it shapes them and makes them unique. Within its shops, tourists find handicrafts from all over the Coast; in its clubs they breathe the glamour of Positano, the African-style Praiano and the wonderful Conca dei Marini; along the steps and the paths between the houses, they enjoy landscapes and horizons then found in every small town, creek or terrace.
Amalfi is all about this, it is the theological compendium of the wonders, welfare, sensitivity, and joy of life that characterizes the Amalfi Coast, the “Divine Coast”.
The vestiges of the past, the monuments of Amalfi
Amalfi lies at the end of the valley dug by the river Chiarito, and is a spectacular example of human adaptation to nature: houses, churches, monuments, public and private buildings are perched on the crest of a totally hilly land.
The main square of Amalfi is Piazza Flavio Gioia, which overlooks the harbor and is the starting point of the promenade. Amalfi is a historic city: most of the old houses and buildings were destroyed over the centuries, but some of them still exist and hold a great value. Starting from the Duomo: from the square with the Baroque fountain of St. Andrew at the centre, begins the stairway leading to the entrance of the main church of Amalfi. The Duomo, in Arab-Sicilian style, dates back to the IX century, but several changes have been made in the Middle Ages and Baroque period.
Inside the navy yards, located in the area of Porta Marina, ships of the Maritime Republic were once built: these were the warships known as Sagene and merchant vessels called Teridi or Buctio. Of particular historical interest are also the Paradiso Cloister and the Paper Museum. The former, dating back to 1266, housed within the Church of the Assumption, was the cemetery for illustrious citizens of Amalfi. The Cloister, connected to the archbishop’s palace, is now a beautiful garden that still treasures sarcophagi belonging to different families and people in the city.
The Paper Museum of Amalfi, in Via Delle Cartiere, is an important homage to the ancient papermaking activity in the city: around 1700, there were some 15 paper mills in Amalfi. The museum, built by entrepreneur Nicholas Milano, is a museum-laboratory where it is still possible to make sheets of paper and observe the ancient windmills pumped by the force of the river Chiarito. The Civic Museum of Amalfi, located on the Town Hall Square, showcases objects and documents of the town’s history, artifacts, relics and other sacred objects saved from looting. Among the most important documents preserved in the Museum, is one of the few original copies of the so called “Tabula Amalphitana” a maritime code created in 1400.
The natural landscape around Amalfi
Inland from Amalfi, but belonging to the town of Scala, lies the Nature Reserve Valle delle Ferriere. The Valley is a lush paradise ideal for walking and hiking surrounded by lush vegetation. The dense forests of chestnut trees and mixed vegetation – some very rare ferns flourish right here – are immersed in the scenario of the Lattari Mountains, and dominated by the peaks of Mount Cervigliano at 1200 meters, as well as Mount Mustaculo and Monte Rotondo. Among the wonders within the Nature Reserve Valle delle Ferriere, worth a mention the beautiful pastures for grazing in the area of S. Maria dei Monti, some spectacular waterfalls up to 20 meters high in Acqualta, and an ancient canyon in Palara.